Happy New Year! Is getting your computer organized and archiving your important digital documents one of your resolutions? This process is known as Personal Digital Archiving, and we can help you get started. If you have ever had a hard drive fail, you understand how heartbreaking and painful it is to lose your photos and other important files forever. If you haven’t (lucky you!), there are a few steps you can take to make sure you never have to deal with this digital disaster.
The first step is to organize your files. Group like documents (Word documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, photo and video files) in folders and give them names that indicate what type of document it is or the information the file contains. For example: “efp4800c28.pdf” is a bad file name, but “registration_conf_02_2019.pdf” is a good one. A descriptive name will make it easy to tell at a glance what the document is.
You have probably heard about the importance of backing up your files. This refers to having an external storage device where you routinely save all of your computer files. You can even set your computer to do this automatically without having to think about it, for example, if you are a Mac user with Time Machine.
Another option is to identify all of the digital documents that you want to preserve and save them to an external storage device manually. You can also store these files in the cloud through various cloud-based services. In fact, it’s a good idea to do both in case the external hard drive fails or if a natural disaster wipes out access to cloud services. Generally, the more places you have copies of your documents, the safer they are. But do keep in mind that cloud services can pose security issues and can be hacked so it’s best not to store documents with sensitive personal or financial information (bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or social security numbers) that can be used by criminals to steal your identity. Paper versions of these documents (along with other paper documents like birth certificates, car titles, etc.) are most secure in a safe or fireproof storage box.
Here is a breakdown of a few good, free cloud storage services:
Google provides great tools for storing your data. Between Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos, you can store up to 15 MB of data for free. If you exceed the 15 MB storage limit, you can purchase additional storage ($1.99/mo for 100 MB). If you have a Gmail account, then you already have access to the full suite of Google tools you need to archive your personal documents. Just go to the tiles icon, and select Google Drive to get started.
Dropbox is another popular service, but the free storage limits are significantly lower. Dropbox provides up to 2 GB free, but you can upgrade to 2T for $9.99/mo.
If you are a Mac or iPhone user, saving your data to iCloud could not be simpler. In fact, if you set up an iCloud account when you purchased your device, it is automatically backing up your data. If you get a message that your iCloud storage is full (5MB comes free), you can pay a monthly fee for more storage ($.99/mo for 50 GB, $2.99/mo for 200 GB, or $9.99/mo for 2TB).
Here is a good review of various cloud storage services. If you have never used one before, there are many helpful tutorials online.
What about paper documents? You can back them up too. It is not hard to scan and upload them to your computer or to cloud storage. Flatbed scanners are inexpensive or, even easier, there are several apps that allow you to scan documents simply using your smartphone. Adobe Scan is one of the best free mobile scanning apps, but there are many other options available.
Once you have backed up your files, especially with manual backup, you will have to be diligent about remembering to upload new documents that you want to archive. It’s important to check your backup files every few months for data corruption. Over time, even digital files can deteriorate.
Also important to remember is that you should migrate your files as you upgrade your computers and devices. Old formats need to be migrated to new media. Whatever happened to all of the documents we saved to floppy disks? And CDs won’t be around for much longer. It is a good idea to save all of your photos stored on CDs to an external hard drive and a cloud service if you want to preserve them for the long haul. If you are interested in learning about digital photo preservation specifically, read more about it here.
Now sit back and do something you enjoy knowing that your important data is backed up and safe and sound!
Need help getting started? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a Zoom consultation.